Always wanted to go on an exciting backpacking adventure around Europe, but don’t know where to start? Think ‘interrail’ is just an anagram of ‘trilinear’? Can’t tell your Ecolines from your Eurolines? You need this series of blogs.
LESSON 3: Even if you’re planning to freestyle your trip, look into the transport options on offer.
Look up the places on your list on a map. Is it a 15-hour drive between two of them? Look into places en route that you can stop off for a night, or see if there are sleeper coaches on a night train. Alternatively, is there a cheap flight or ferry between them? If you’re on a shoestring budget, see if that route is covered by a budget coach service, like Megabus.
Even if you don’t book in advance or are planning to decide how your route goes as you muddle along, it’s a good idea to be informed in advance about how you’re going to get around.
Some of the essential resources you’ll need for planning transport are:
Skyscanner: Finds prices for flights, and can find when the cheapest flights are year-round. Warning: once you click and find there are international airfares for under £10, you may become addicted and travel-mopey.
Interrail: 30 European countries are covered by Interrail passes, more than when I went in 2013. (However, most of the new countries are Balkan ones that are poorly served by trains, so if you’re looking to go into Bosnia, Macedonia, Kosovo or Montenegro, you’re better off using buses.) Why pay for every individual train journey when you can have everything paid for in advance, with the freedom of when you go? It’s also handy for day-trips to neighbouring cities or countries.
Bahn.de: Booked your interrail pass? Now start using this insanely helpful site to plan how you’re going to get from A to B.
Balkanviator: If you’re travelling between Balkan states, it’s unlikely that trains will be the fastest, most direct or convenient option for you. This website is an absolute lifesaver. It comprehensively and accurately lists all your bus options between places. Although bus prices aren’t provided, they’re rarely expensive. (€25 for 9-hour services between Kotor in Montenegro and Pristina in Kosovo via Ulcinj, and between Thessaloniki in Greece and Plovdiv in Bulgaria, are the most expensive I came across.)
Ecolines: Website for finding intercity buses around the Baltics (although they also go to Russia, Belarus, Poland and Ukraine). Services are cheap, comfortable and regular, and the seats even have tiny TVs in the back of them. They didn’t work on my buses from Vilnius to Riga and Riga to Tallinn, but maybe they will for you.
Direct Ferries: If you want to get off the mainland or across the water, this is an easy-to-use service that you can research lines and purchase tickets from.
A very specific note – if you want to get between Belgrade and Sarajevo, the world basically hates you and you’re best off booking your place on a Gea Tours minibus, which will take you between 6 and 12 hours. GET YOUR HOSTEL OWNER TO TALK TO THEM OVER THE PHONE. They do not speak English. Unless you really enjoy being shouted at in Serbian, this is good advice to heed. Be prepared for a chaotic dive around Belgrade to pick people up – it can take over 3 hours. (Experiences detailed here.)
If you’re prepared for all the planes, trains and buses that your trip will entail, we’ll move onto the accommodation side of things…